The Gift

One of the most unusual and wonderful presents I ever received was from a Catholic nun.  And I don’t even remember her name.  I was a high school junior attending weekly Catechism in the straight-backed wooden pews of St. Mary’s Catholic Church.  St. Mary’s was brutally cold and darkly solemn that Wednesday in mid-December.  A few pale candles waved weakly from the alter, perhaps waving goodbye to my slipping faith.  It’s a terrible thing to doubt your Christianity during Christmastime.

The Sister who taught us now was a soft-spoken but confident woman with slow and elegant movements. She announced, “I have a Christmas gift for each of you. It’s actually from God.”

She passed around a shallow ceramic bowl filled with scraps of paper and continued to speak.  “On each of these slips of paper is a gift from God.  I promise you that God will grant you this gift sometime in your life when you need it most.  I do not know when that will be.  It may be next week, it may be in two years. But I promise.”

I reeled at what I considered the blasphemy of her words.  Who was she to promise a Christmas present from the Almighty?  This kind of “I-represent-God’s-will” grandstanding was exactly what eroded my belief system. I was tired of hearing what I considered hypocritical messages from people of faith. My high school counterparts each took a slip of paper as the bowl passed my way.  I looked at them anxiously, wondering what their slips of paper revealed.  Then I took mine.

In typed blocked letters was the word “GENTLENESS.”  Gentleness?  Who the fuck wants gentleness?   I remember thinking that God had a pretty crappy typewriter.  I crumpled the scrap and kicked it under the pew ahead of me.

Sister continued to explain, “I promise that God will give your gift to you.”

Sometime over that Christmas break, I had a fight with one of my sisters. I don’t remember what we fought about.  After we had each skulked away, I thought of my gift and wondered where God had been during that fight – why didn’t He – the Almighty – make a grand appearance to provide the ‘promised gentleness?’  And I thought about gentleness – what did it mean to be gentle?  Gentle in your heart? Your words? Did gentleness stop you from fighting or hurting someone you love?  Did it make you rise above the petty conflict?  Is gentleness a realization that the fight isn’t as important as the person? I thought about my sister and how I would want people in the world to be gentle with her. Soon I was calm; I was feeling…I didn’t know…could that moment be the experience of gentleness?  Was this the promised gift?

I found my sister in another room of the house and we reconciled.

A few years later in college, I had to initiate an uncomfortable discussion with my college roommate.  I truly hoped that I would display the kind of patience necessary for this talk to go well.  And I wondered ‘Is this time?  Will the promised gentleness will come now?’  Though I shook with nervousness (being very new to confrontation), the conversation went very well.  I held my ground. Respected his feelings. After it was over, I asked myself, ‘Was that the moment of the gift?’

I asked that question again a year or two later as my best friend cried in my arms over a failing relationship.  How could I find the right soothing words?  What do you say when someone’s entire world just ended?  ‘Please, let now be the time of the gift.’ I begged.  ‘Please God, let me find words of comfort. I’m not good at this stuff, but help me be gentle with her broken heart.’  And somehow I said things that made her feel better. Or maybe gentleness wasn’t in the words I said, but in holding her, in feeling sorrow with her.

Later in life when it was I who desperately grieved a failed relationship and my own heart was pierced with jagged regrets and unspoken recriminations, I wondered the familiar question ‘Will the gentleness come now?’  It did.

And I wept with gratitude.

I have been visited by gentleness many times since then, yet I still don’t know that I could define it.  Does gentleness yank you out of anger?  Or is it more like a child’s soft but insistent tug on the back of your shirt?  Perhaps gentleness seeps into you like milk through an Oreo, a delicious and thorough sensation.  Gentleness could have a far-away voice or perhaps it acts like a warm baking pie that wafts into consciousness and changes your perception.  Or maybe gentleness is present in buttery, toasty yellow, a pretty color acting as a distraction, encouraging a better part of yourself to swim to the surface.

I still don’t know.

All I know is that God kept the nun’s promise, over and over.  I still pray for gentleness to come to me when I need it most. And when my heart feels it or my eyes get wet with tears, I often think, ‘Is this it, God? Is today the day you keep the nun’s promise?’ I have since left the Catholic Church.

But I still have faith.

And now, I offer you a gift from my own crappy word processor, typed in all caps.  This gift is actually from God.  But it will come to you.  I promise.


31 Responses to “The Gift”

  1. Jeffrey Fillion Says:

    What a wonderful gift. Thank you.

  2. Kathie Says:

    Thank You for the lovely gift. When I read your posts I always think “what a Kind person you are”

  3. Bonnie Herbert Says:

    You are a wacky and crazy man that is filled with gentleness. And I think everyone’s life you touch isa little better because of it.

  4. Dianne Hartsock Says:

    Beautiful and touching, Edmond. Thank you. Merry Christmas. :)

  5. Jaycee Edward Says:

    Thank you. That was beautiful. Merry Christmas, Edmond. You are special.

  6. Beth B Says:

    thank you. A good reminder of what we all hold inside of us, sometimes unrecognizable.

  7. Helena Stone Says:

    No words other than ‘thank you’. I’ll treasure your gift.

  8. Jo Broshar Says:

    Edmond, thanks for the lovely gift. My favorite one to date. I feel gently touched by your words as you always seem to be good at it. I am honored to call you my friend, however remote. Love to you this Christmas time and always.

  9. Tom Webb Says:

    Edmond…so beautiful. I couldn’t pick a better word for you and the way you are. Gentleness. What a gift. Thank you.


  10. Thora Says:

    Thank you Edmond :)
    This gift is a keeper, and I truly hope that I’ll be able to use it on a daily basis.
    Merry Christmas xoxo

  11. Leslie Roxworthy Says:


  12. Edmond Says:

    Thank you, Leslie! Merry Christmas, old friend. We are old friends. I love it.

  13. Edmond Says:

    Thanks, Thora. You have to keep it. I already threw out the gift receipt, so…

  14. Edmond Says:

    Tom, what a beautiful thing for you to say. You have your hands full with life and still made time to stop by and make me feel beautiful. What a guy. Thank you.

  15. Edmond Says:

    Thank you, friend! Love to you as well, Jo. Love to you.

  16. Edmond Says:

    You’re welcome.

  17. Edmond Says:

    True. I wonder if there is other good stuff in there?

  18. Edmond Says:

    Thank you, Jaycee! Merry Christmas to you.

  19. Edmond Says:

    Merry Christmas, Dianne! *big hug*

  20. Edmond Says:

    Awww…thank you, Bonnie! Wow. That’s a big blessing to take in on a day full of big blessings. That’s like eating ONE LAST COOKIE because it’s so special and made with love…and there’s room for one more….so I will take that blessing as my one last cookie today. Thank you!

  21. Edmond Says:

    Oh, well, thank you. I could write some posts where I’m not so kind. I can be an ass. But thank you for honoring that side of me so it grows. :-)

  22. Edmond Says:

    Jeffrey! You’re always right at my side and it’s nice. Thank you. Merry Christmas, friend.

  23. Holly Collison Says:

    My tender- hearted friend. Thank you and Merry Christmas.

  24. Michelle K Says:

    What a wonderful reflection on a lesson of what being kind–gentle–to one another (and oneself) can mean. I grew up Catholic as well and no longer practice Catholicism, but I have a pretty good idea that practicing “gentleness” is kinda behind the oft-forgotten “do unto others” message of Christianity and other religions as well, sadly. You captured being gentle into practice from a very personal and human perspective and I loved reading it. :)

    Peace and many blessings to you and your loved ones in the New Year. :)

  25. Helen Cameron Says:

    From another Catholic nun, “Thank you, Edmond!”

  26. Edmond Says:

    Blessing to you, my former Catholic friend!!

  27. Evan Blattner Says:

    Thank you Edmond, or G-d. I need it.

  28. Clare London Says:

    Thank you so much for this post, Edmond, and your own gentleness towards me whenever we’ve met. I hope I can continue to return it every time xx

  29. Rory Ni Coileain Says:

    Thank you, Edmond. That gift came just when I needed it. <3

  30. Hattie's Mom Says:

    Oh, I need this little slip of paper to hold onto as I go on being a mother to this tiny little creature. I hope she will only know my gentleness.
    Love you, Uncle Ted. You give us gifts of joy and gentleness every day you are in our lives.

  31. Dawn Says:

    Love you gentle writer. You got it, you get it, you give it.

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